Automotive

Hemi Under Glass Brought Back Memories I Didn’t Know I Had

As I read Hemi Under Glass: Bob Riggle and His Wheel-Standing Mopars by Mark Fletcher and Richard Truesdell, I went back in time to my childhood, where I had a series of vague memories connected with the wheel-standing Plymouth Barracudas. Some model cars, some photos, some videos — memories of a damn good childhood.

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I grew up long after Riggle’s era, but my dad had his very own early 1970s Barracuda that he cherished, and his appreciation for Hemi-powered ‘Cudas of any era was unmatched. I’d known about Riggle’s Hemi Under Glass growing up, but with this book, I finally got the full story.

(Welcome back to the Jalopnik Race Car Book Club, where we all get together to read books about racing and you send in all your spicy hot takes. In honor of being trapped indoors, I’ve made the reading a little more frequent; every two weeks instead of every month. This week, we’re looking at Hemi Under Glass: Bob Riggle and His Wheel-Standing Mopars by Mark Fletcher and Richard Truesdall, a photo-heavy recollection of drag racing’s coolest exhibition cars.)

There’s some sort of primal, childlike enjoyment in watching a really cool car do something as mind-boggling as driving on two wheels. It’s hard not to smile. And that’s a lot of what I was doing with the Hemi Under Glass book, which was a short read loaded with photos.

Basically, it follows the story of the Hemi Under Glass Barracuda, which was an exhibition car developed and run by Hurst Performance from 1965 through 1970 and then run privately by driver Bob Riggle for decades after that.

While I know a bit about the Hurst history, this book really drove home the importance of the brand’s marketing. It found a niche — car enthusiasts looking for different levels of performance — and built great parts around it. It promoted its efforts at the race track itself, where the company would bring out trucks and mechanics to undertake repairs on the cars of all competitors, not just the Hurst-equipped ones. And it offered extra prizes if you won an event with a Hurst product.

One of the other marketing schemes Hurst came up with was actually developing an exhibition car to run during drag racing events. Hurst ended up developing the Hemi Under Glass, a Barracuda whose engine was moved to the rear of the vehicle, where it sat under the ‘Cuda’s large glass trunk panel. As the book tells it, the goal wasn’t for it to stand on two wheels, but when driver Bill Shrewsberry took it out for the first time, all that rear-biased weight saw the front end of the car kick up.

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Shrewsberry left after the first year to work on his own wheel-stander, the L.A. Dart. In the meantime, Hurst promoted mechanic Bob Riggle to the driver’s seat of the Hemi Under Glass, which is where he stayed.

Riggle developed some integral innovations in the car, like a lever that could help him adjust the direction of the wheels. He ultimately became the best driver for the vehicle. When Hurst went public and was bought out by a company that saw running an exhibition wheel-stander as a liability, Riggle was given the car to run privately under his own name and without the Hurst logo.

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The first stint of his career lasted until 1975, when he crashed at US 30 Dragway and was seriously injured. But as the book details, Riggle was always drawn to the Hemi Under Glass. He went back exhibition racing in 1992, and he has helped build four replicas of the original cars, which changed every year to mimic the Barracuda’s new model-year styling. Riggle has since passed driving duties over to Mike Mantle, but as he notes in the book, he’d likely get behind the wheel again if he was offered the chance.

The book is under 160 pages, which makes it an easily digestible and fun read that’s packed with wheel-stander history. It brought me back to a seriously fun place in my childhood — but I think seeing a muscle car on two wheels will make anyone feel like a kid again.

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And that’s all we have for this week’s Jalopnik Race Car Book Club! Make sure you tune in again on January 17, 2022. We’re going to be reading Inside Shelby American: Wrenching and Racing with Carroll Shelby in the 1960s by John Morton. And don’t forget to drop those hot takes (and recommendations) in the comments or at eblackstock [at] jalopnik [dot] com!

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